Breastfeeding Outcomes After Oxytocin Use During Childbirth: An Integrative Review

J Midwifery Womens Health. 2017 Jul;62(4):397-417. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12601.


Introduction: Despite widespread use of exogenous synthetic oxytocin during the birth process, few studies have examined the effect of this drug on breastfeeding. Based on neuroscience research, endogenous oxytocin may be altered or manipulated by exogenous administration or by blocking normal function of the hormone or receptor. Women commonly cite insufficient milk production as their reason for early supplementation, jeopardizing breastfeeding goals. Researchers need to consider the role of birth-related medications and interventions on the production of milk. This article examines the literature on the role of exogenous oxytocin on breastfeeding in humans.

Methods: Using the method described by Whittemore and Knafl, this integrative review of literature included broad search criteria within the PubMed, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Cochrane, and Scopus databases. Studies published in English associating a breastfeeding outcome in relation to oxytocin use during the birth process were included. Twenty-six studies from 1978 to 2015 met the criteria.

Results: Studies were analyzed according to the purpose of the research, measures and methods used, results, and confounding variables. The 26 studies reported 34 measures of breastfeeding. Outcomes included initiation and duration of breastfeeding, infant behavior, and physiologic markers of lactation. Timing of administration of oxytocin varied. Some studies reported on low-risk birth, while others included higher-risk experiences. Fifty percent of the results (17 of 34 measures) demonstrated an association between exogenous oxytocin and less optimal breastfeeding outcomes, while 8 of 34 measures (23%) reported no association. The remaining 9 measures (26%) had mixed findings. Breastfeeding intentions, parity, birth setting, obstetric risk, and indications for oxytocin use were inconsistently controlled among the studies.

Discussion: Research on breastfeeding and lactation following exogenous oxytocin exposure is limited by few studies and heterogeneous methods. Despite the limitations, researchers and clinicians may benefit from awareness of this body of literature. Continued investigation is recommended given the prevalence of oxytocin use in clinical practice.

Keywords: active management third-stage labor; breastfeeding; drug effects; labor (induced); labor (obstetric); labor stage (third); lactation; oxytocin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Delivery, Obstetric / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior
  • Lactation / drug effects*
  • Oxytocics / adverse effects*
  • Oxytocics / therapeutic use
  • Oxytocin / adverse effects*
  • Oxytocin / therapeutic use
  • Parturition
  • Pregnancy


  • Oxytocics
  • Oxytocin